Semicolon sighed, weary and frustrated; too many misused it, out in the world, and each such misuse resonated through it like a sudden shock. Tonight was the fourth of November, and Semicolon hadn’t been able to rest for three days now.

On the first day, it had recited poetry to itself, fine stuff with even meter and not a single punctuation mark misplaced; and that had been enough to distract it, for a while. On the second day, it had reminisced about its finest accomplishments, trembling at times with pride instead of pain; and that had been enough to distract it, for a while. On the third day, it had held very still and not thought of anything at all; and that had been enough to distract it, for a while.

Today was the fourth day, and already Semicolon had run out of worthwhile distractions. It was going to be a long month. Hmm. Perhaps it could enlist a substitute? The mangled sentences it was forced to serve in wouldn’t be worsened – couldn’t be worsened, if Semicolon were honest (and it was) – and it could get some much-needed rest. But what mark was similar enough to take its place? (More importantly, once it found such a mark, how would it convince it? Well. Semicolon would cross that bridge when it came to it.)

Comma? No, poor Comma was misused even more than Semicolon; when they had stayed together, Novembers always sent it into screaming fits within the week, and Semicolon had to set aside its own pain and comfort Comma. That had been distracting, yes, but far too stressful; it took Semicolon just three years to leave Comma for good, and never once in the eleven years since then had Semicolon regretted it.

Hmm, Period would be an excellent choice; in well-constructed sentences it could slip right into Semicolon’s place with barely a flicker of effort, and in poor ones it would at least not stick out more. But Period hated Semicolon, always jostling for its position. Called it pretentious, over-complicated. (And of course the business with Comma; that had been hard on everyone, and Period and Comma were quite good friends.)

Perhaps dear Colon, then. Colon wasn’t too hard-done-by, most years; sometimes in the off-season it even bemoaned its lack of use. Yes: Colon was the one. Relieved, Semicolon set forth; but when it came to Colon’s residence, Colon was dark with ink and shaking visibly, obviously in far too much trouble of its own to take on Semicolon’s too. Well, there was a good plan gone all to pieces, and the worst part was it hadn't even been three hours. Semicolon went home fuming and flung itself into bed to sulk and suffer.

Ten minutes later, though, it bolted up: the Dashes! How could it have forgotten them? Of course, one of the Dashes would do it.

All the Dashes lived together, and had since time immemorial; most of the other punctuation marks kept a little away from them. It was with no small amount of trepidation that Semicolon knocked on their door and was admitted.

“What is it you want with us?” asked Hyphen, who had answered the door.

“I want to ask Em Dash for a favor, if it please you,” said Semicolon, keeping its attitude deferential.

“Wait here, then.” Semicolon did so, for what must have been half an hour. By the time Hyphen returned it was having rather a bit of trouble keeping restlessness at bay.

“Well? What did it say?” Semicolon asked. Hyphen frowned at it severely.

“Em Dash will not receive you.” Semicolon drooped a bit. “However, En Dash has indicated that it might be willing to make an arrangement. Follow me.”

Hyphen led Semicolon through several different rooms, each richer and more grandly decorated than the last, before stopping at a magnificently gilded double door.

“It’s in here,” Hyphen said, and left.

Semicolon took a breath to steady itself; En Dash – well, En Dash wasn’t a decent sort. Still, there was nothing to be done; Semicolon couldn’t spend the month like this, it just couldn’t. It pushed open one of the doors – and slammed it shut again, heart pounding. En Dash was in there, yes, but it wasn’t alone; Space was with it, and they were doing something absolutely obscene. Semicolon stood there for a moment and gathered itself to leave.

The door swung open again. En Dash stood there, still undressed.

“Come in,” it said, and Semicolon had no choice but to do so.

Within, the room was far more simply decorated than the rest of the house; the walls were white and unadorned, the carpet black. Pillows were scattered about, but there was little in the way of furniture save for the bed. The bed – Semicolon looked away, examined the rest of the room again.

“So. Semicolon. Whatever can you possibly want from me? I simply can’t imagine.” En Dash grinned unpleasantly.

“I was wondering,” said Semicolon, keeping its eyes on En Dash’s face, “if you might perhaps be persuaded to, if it’s not too much trouble, maybe substitute for me? Just for this November, of course. I wouldn’t trouble you, only this is a particularly bad one, I haven’t slept for three days, and I know you don’t get much misuse, so I thought maybe – ” En Dash put a finger to its lips.

“And what were you planning on offering, in exchange for this favor?”

“I, er, I….” Semicolon trailed off.

“I see. Well. Space and I are feeling generous; we’ll give you a chance to convince us.” Semicolon glanced at the bed again; Space was sprawled naked on the covers, watching intently. It caught Semicolon’s eyes and gestured invitingly to the bed beside it.

“You don’t mean – ?” Semicolon ventured, going cold.

“We do.”

“Isn’t there anything else?”

“Not really, no.”

Semicolon hesitated. This, what En Dash was asking it to do – no, it couldn’t. This was awful. It took a breath to refuse, and a particularly intense misuse hit it; its vision went grey for a moment.

“All right. I’ll do it.”

“Oh, good.” En Dash put a hand on Semicolon’s shoulder possessively; Space climbed off the bed and began to approach. Semicolon made an effort not to tremble.